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Fashion designer Betsey Johnson developed her edgy, offbeat style during the new wave/punk era of the late 1970s.
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A short biography of fashion designer Betsey Johnson whose London underground influences took the fashion world by storm in 1971.
Fashion designer Betsey Johnson gives her two cents on the appeal of Madonna's early trendsetting look.
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Betsey Johnson grew up with a passion for dance and art. Her fashion career skyrocketed when her avant garde designs became part of the 1960s "Youthquake" movement. In the 70s, however, her career slumped until the punk rock style inspired her to create fashion for a new generation. Johnson opened a boutique in New York's Soho neighborhood, eventually followed by more than 60 stores worldwide.
"I like the everyday process and the people, the pressure, the surprise of seeing the work come alive walking and dancing around on strangers. Like red lipstick on the mouth, my products wake up and brighten and bring the wearer to life, drawing attention to her beauty and specialness, her moods and movements, her dreams and fantasies."
On the reboot of her career: "I thought it was all over until Punk started in London. It felt like a reincarnation of the 60s. It felt the same as when I was 22."
Fashion designer. Born Betsey Johnson on August 10, 1942, in Wethersfield, Connecticut. Johnson grew up in the nearby town of Terryville as a child, where she indulged in her two greatest loves: drawing and dance. She had a precocious talent for art, and throughout her youth, she trained in various styles of dance. In fact, it was a combination of these two interests that eventually led Johnson to fashion designing. She loved the elaborate costumes she wore for her dance recitals and spent many long afternoons sketching costume ideas. "What I tried to do was a combination of dance and art," she recalls. Johnson says that she settled on fashion designing when "I realized that making clothes is completing what a drawing can't be—going from two dimensional to reality."
Johnson was a cheerleader in high school, and upon graduating in 1960 she decided to pursue her interests in art and design at the Pratt Institute in Brooklyn. But after one year at Pratt, she transferred to Syracuse University, where she proved a stellar student, graduating magna cum laude as a member of the Phi Beta Kappa society in 1964.
Almost immediately after graduating from college, Johnson made her first splash in the New York fashion industry by winning Mademoiselle magazine's Guest Editor Contest and earning a job with the magazine's art department. Only one year later, in 1965, Johnson landed a job as a designer at Paraphernalia, an offbeat New York clothing boutique. It was at Paraphernalia that Johnson developed her whimsical, hippie-inspired style, characterized by the use of unique fabrics such as shower curtains, the interior lining of automobiles and the pinstriped wool of old New York Yankees uniforms. Johnson is also known for employing bright, neon dyes, puffed sleeves, deep necklines, and low waists. Taking her cues from the more avant-garde London fashion scene, Johnson—along with designer Mary Quant and artist Andy Warhol—helped pioneer what became known as the "Youthquake" movement in fashion, art and culture.
In 1970, Johnson left Paraphernalia to assume creative control of Alley Cat, a youthful sportswear brand, where she continued to design clothes with bright colors, outlandish patterns and sexy fits. In 1971, in honor of her work at Alley Cat, Johnson won the prestigious Coty Fashion Critics Award, becoming, at only 29 years old, the youngest designer ever to receive the honor.
After this quick rise to the top of the fashion world, however, Johnson's career stagnated. By the mid-1970s, Johnson's youthful demographic "moved up to work and dress-for-work clothes, and my customer disappeared." Alley Cat went out of business, and Johnson sustained herself with freelance work designing children's and maternity clothes.
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